Network and Awards
All geological repositories share some common challenges in the processes that must be understood. They include:
1) the geochemistry of the interaction of the waste with the surrounding environment,
2) the effects of the local biota (particularly microbiota) on the waste and its solubility,
3) the potential transport paths of the waste through the subsurface, particularly in groundwater,
4) the potential effects of future climatic changes and environmental alterations on the fate of the waste and its interaction with the environment,
5) the effects of future inadvertent human intrusion,
6) the best way to monitor the repository both during its establishment, but also long after, to assess the fate of the waste within the system.
A key challenge in the development of geological repositories is to fully address the scientific and technical questions associated with geochemical, geophysical, biological and future climatic/human factors for disposal. A fuller understanding of the geochemical processes within geological repositories is required, and the potential role of microbiota requires further characterisation. However, we know, for example, that by changing the valence states of radionuclides, microbial populations can have a significant impact on the solubility, and thus transport, of nuclear wastes through groundwater. Conversely, by forming biofilms within rocks, microorganisms can potentially retard the flow of waste products from a geological repository. Thus, identifying the major geochemical questions of the fate of waste is linked to an understanding of biological processes. Similarly, physical conditions of substances in a repository (used for CO2 storage, for instance) may affect the chemical, and hence biological, processes there. The coupled nature of these processes is not fully understood and a key objective of the network is to identify, prioritise and then act as a conduit for research efforts to resolve these questions.
The implications of the network is that we will be able to provide new direction in prioritising research questions and directions for understanding processes in geological repository sites.